Video: Wisconsin students chase Westboro nuts off their campus

posted at 10:34 pm on April 10, 2008 by Allahpundit

Another spirited counterprotest, this time minus the Rickroll. I found the clip surprisingly hard to watch at times; one’s natural sympathy for a small group surrounded by an angry mob makes the moral focus blurrier than it should be. If you find yourself succumbing to the same instinct — and knowing our readership, most of you won’t — let this straighten you out. That was what drew the Phelpsies to campus. Not so blurry anymore, is it?

The Wisconsin kids don’t pull any punches with their insults, so please observe this, your official content warning.


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I assumed they were on campus legally – they are a family of lawyers and tend to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Is that not the case?

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 11:17 AM

I’d have to assume, but I do not know, that they’d at least sought a permit, yes, so let me apologize about my very loose use of the word “right” there. Yes, I assume as you do that they weren’t breaking any actual laws by being there so, in that sense, you could certainly argue that they had a legal right to be there. Point conceded.

Then again, so would my hypothetical racist, at least up until the point where the ushers asked him to leave the premises. Or had to call 911 to have them come sweep up the remains of him, as might well be the case.

I should have been clearer: Yes, you do have a Constitutional right to be as offensive in your speech as your heart desires, even the Phelpses do, but what you don’t have is a moral right to do it whenever or wherever you what, in whatever fashion you find appropriate. Nor do you have a Constitutional right to escape the consequences, except if we’re talking about consequences from the government.

There are still such things as “fighting words”, “intentional infliction of emotional distress”, “incitement to riot”, “disturbing the peace” etc., and nobody, including the Phelpses, are exempted from them. This is not a matter of them simply expressing an opinion. If that were the case, they could do so on any random street corner, and I would most definitely be against them being kept from doing so, no matter how much I despise their ragged arses. Instead, they are intentionally, and with malice aforethought, seeking out places and times where they will cause the most distress and disturbance, against the express and repeatedly stated will of the public.

Misha I on April 11, 2008 at 11:38 AM

Do these people just protest random people’s deaths? I don’t get it.

Darth Executor on April 11, 2008 at 12:14 PM

Darth, they’re basically publicity hounds, so they take the opportunity at any well-publicized death to protest. I’ve heard they make their living with lawsuits associated with these protests. No link for that, so take it with a grain of salt.

Misha, I think I understand where you’re coming from, but as for me, I’m of the Ezra “because it’s my bloody right to do so” attitude. If “fighting words” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” are legitimate legal concepts, then I think that sucks, and I think that those things could fairly be described as a slippery slope. Incitement to riot and disturbing the peace are fair enough, but if someone has been granted a permit, should not apply.

I don’t give a crap about the will of the public where my free speech is concerned. The public’s views of my opinions should have no bearing at all on my right to speak.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 12:49 PM

Now would they do this to a Islamic group? No way.

Zaire67 on April 11, 2008 at 12:57 PM

Ezra Levant, that is; sorry about that. And come to think of it, I’m not so sure about whether I agree with incitement to riot. Disturbing the peace, I’m kind of on the fence about. It is an excellent charge for those punks who park on my corner playing loud music at night, but if they do it at noon, I don’t think I should have the right to complain.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 1:06 PM

The Westboro nuts test my faith in the first admendment. However what I really hate about them is that they turn people into Brownshirts.
Considering this is Wisconsin, they are more concerned about the slurs against gays than burning the US flag.

RobCon on April 11, 2008 at 1:11 PM

However what I really hate about them is that they turn people into Brownshirts.

I am so stealing that.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 1:18 PM

Brownshirts would have given them what they sorely deserve, the beating of their lives. And it would all be legal or at least disregarded by the authorities.

And Brownshirts beat innocent people who definitely did not deserve it.

These WBC people deserve beating and more.

NoDonkey on April 11, 2008 at 1:58 PM

I go to school at Stout and here is what I know. Yes they were there legally. The students were told to ignore them, which as you can see worked real well. The objection came from both Gays and Religious students alike. The main focus in that the students at Stout live in a pretty tolerant environment. Except when it comes to hate filled activities. Yes, we have peaceful anti-war protests but there are equal amounts of peaceful support for the soldiers by other groups. I am not saying that it is in anyway the ideal utpoian environment but for the most part this type of response is not in anyway the norm. I think the closing line in the video sums it up. Not in our house, go hate somewhere else.

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 2:15 PM

Considering this is Wisconsin, they are more concerned about the slurs against gays than burning the US flag.

RobCon on April 11, 2008 at 1:11 PM

This unfortunately is a stereotype of the state as a hole being liberal. Pretty much just the southern half where the population is higher. Stout is located in the more conservative half.

Police were there to protect the WBC from getting lynched by the crowd.

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 2:21 PM

drjeep – so you’re okay with threatening people whose speech offends you? You’re tolerant… except when it comes to speech you really, really don’t like. You really don’t see a problem with that?

Look, I despise these SOBs too. But if they had the legal right to be there and to speak, I just don’t understand how you can justify taking away that right.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 2:37 PM

Mind you, I’m not saying don’t counterprotest. Get a big crowd, make your own signs, and yell right back at them the way you guys did at the beginning of the video. But I’m saying don’t run them off campus, don’t allow yourselves to become a mob that’s out of control. Let them exhaust themselves protesting and getting nowhere with it, and let them see they are both outnumbered and outclassed.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 2:42 PM

I don’t give a crap about the will of the public where my free speech is concerned. The public’s views of my opinions should have no bearing at all on my right to speak.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 12:49 PM

Oh, I don’t want to infringe on your rights, nor those of the Phelpses. If government starts taking away their right to speak, then it’s a completely different kettle of fish, no matter how much I sympathize with the intentions behind such a thing, and I sympathize a LOT. That doesn’t make it right, however, nor does it make it Constitutional.

But nowhere in the Constitution does it say that you have a unalienable right to be protected from the consequences, from private individuals, of your words and actions.

As the quote goes: “The Bill of Rights protects you from government, but it doesn’t protect you from ME.”

And quite frankly, if the Phelpses try to piss on the wrong grave one of these days and end up beaten to lifeless, bleeding pulps, then they asked for it and I will feel no sympathy, no pity, nor would I testify against the perpetrators, even if I were standing right next to them when they did it. And should I be called for jury duty, I’d strongly advise the prosecutor to have me picked off right early in the selection phase, or he might as well get used to having a hung jury ahead of time.

Misha I on April 11, 2008 at 3:11 PM

I agree with Mischa l. It was the people that told them to go home, not the government. Like I said the police were there for to protect them and their right to be there. I have the freedom to say what I want but what are you going to do to me if I stand out on the side walk in front of your house (street right of way is public property) and do just what they did? My guess is, if I was as offensive as this group, you and your neighbors would, at the very least, run me out of town. I highly doubt you would run to my rescue and claim I have the right to do it!

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 3:22 PM

Misha, if the government passively allows others to restrict my free speech – as in Berkeley, where Code Pink has preferred treatment and counterprotesters who complain to the police that they’ve been assaulted are told that the police must remain neutral – i.e. not enforce the law against Code Pinkers – then how is that materially different from the government taking away the counter protesters right to free speech? They’re allowing others to do it on their behalf, and letting those others go unpunished.

If it’s not okay when Code Pink does it, then it’s not okay when Stout does it.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 3:27 PM

Also at no time were they harmed by the crowd. Intimidated, yes you would be too! the odds were probably at least 75 to 1. And the number of cops were not enough to control the crowd. So I think they were far from out of control. I don’t agree with the way they handled things. Personally I would not have given them the time of day. But that is why they can do what they do. Not enough of us make them stop and the publicity only helps them further their cause. Like it or not if more people stood up to these guys and told them to go home sooner or later they would run out of energy as well as support.

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 3:30 PM

And I can’t tell you how much I HATE even the appearance of speaking on behalf of those bast*rds. But if we don’t have the right to free speech, including freedom from fear of being assaulted for it, meaning the law would protect me from be “run out of town” – then we don’t really have free speech.

If you don’t like someone’s speech, reason with them or outshout them, but don’t threaten and intimidate.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 3:31 PM

We crossed comments, drjeep. Okay, yes, tell them to go home - but don’t chase them there. That’s all I’m saying.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 3:33 PM

Your Berkeley argument is a poor example. Berkeley is a completely different planet and it wasn’t ok for the counter protesters to be silenced.

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 3:33 PM

Matter of fact no one was chased. Followed but not chased. They left on their own. They began to leave. They were supposed to be there for 20 more minutes. Students did out shout them. Students did have our own signs. They left because they couldn’t take a dose of their own medicine.

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 3:39 PM

drjeep, why is it a poor example?

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 3:41 PM

Matter of fact no one was chased. Followed but not chased.

My view of the video was a bit different, but I’ll take your word for it, as we’ve seen how deceptive video can be.

But do you agree that intimidation would be a poor tactic to engage in for anyone who supports free speech rights?

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 3:43 PM

Yes I don’t agree with the way the students were verbally abusive in the manner they were. I would like to think they are smarter than that. But what do you expect hate breeds hate. Remember while you have the right to say what you want, if other disagree with you they have the right to tell you to sit down and be quiet. I actually agree with the concepts of this “church”. I don’t agree with homosexuality, but come on there is a better way to go about this. And I am most certainly not going to do anything in a hateful manner.

It is a poor example because Berkeley seems to play be a completely different set of rules. I in no way saw the police “neutrality” as being neutral. Fact is if someone was being harmed they should have been arrested and charge accordingly.

As was the case at Stout. One student was arrested for taking a sign from the WBC.

drjeep on April 11, 2008 at 3:56 PM

Two groups of spoiled, white Americans. I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about either of these groups. They should both pick real issues and take a meaningful stand. I only wish it had come to blows, it would have been more entertaining. They deserve each other.

yubley on April 11, 2008 at 3:58 PM

Misha, if the government passively allows others to restrict my free speech – as in Berkeley, where Code Pink has preferred treatment and counterprotesters who complain to the police that they’ve been assaulted are told that the police must remain neutral – i.e. not enforce the law against Code Pinkers – then how is that materially different from the government taking away the counter protesters right to free speech?

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 3:27 PM

Really two questions, Laura. In response to the last one, “how is that materially different from the government taking away the counter protesters right to free speech”, because that’s the easy one: “Congress shall make no law…” Not intervening to protect isn’t passing a law. The outcome may very well be the same, I’ll definitely grant you that, but nothing in the actual letter of the law prohibits it.

So whereas the end result might be the same, there’s nothing un-Constitutional about it.

The second question, then, is “should police intervene, or do they even have a duty to do so?”

Well, they most certainly should, in my opinion. After all, they’re there to protect the peace, otherwise we’d have precious little use for them. Granted, being a cop pulling duty protecting the Phelpses would suck donkey balls, but that’s life. Sometimes your job sucks.

And they did in this instance. The Phelpses weren’t righteously beaten (sadly), so they did their jobs. Yes, they led them off, but that again has to do with what the police is supposed to do: They’re not just supposed to stop crimes in progress or cleaning up after crimes already committed, they’re also supposed to keep the peace so crimes don’t happen in the first place. And it was pretty clear that tempers were flaring up something fierce there, with no telling what would happen next, although I have a few guesses. Should they have stood their ground and protected the Phelpses? Well, for one thing it’s not their duty to help you exercise your Constitutional rights. It’s their duty to keep your butt from being beaten if they’re in a position to do so. For another, how on Earth were they supposed to hold off several hundred angry students worked into a frenzy? What were they supposed to have done then? Start shooting the kids in order to protect two Phelpsers’ right to hang around with a couple of offensive signs? Can you imagine the outrage? “Sorry that we had to shoot your kid, Sir, but he was trying to take a sign saying ‘G-d hates fags’ away from a Phelpser, so I really had no choice.”

Of course not. So they did the only thing they could see that they could do that would calm things down and prevent an even bigger mess, which was to separate the two groups by escorting the smaller group off the premises.

I see where you’re coming from, and it’s really quite interesting and challenging for me to try to see it from both sides, particularly when one side is a side that I’d have no qualms about seeing squished flat by a steamroller, but I fail to see anybody doing anything wrong in this case. Other than the Phelpsers.

Misha I on April 11, 2008 at 4:17 PM

WBC makes my skin crawl. I would love to see them, well, I’ll stop there. Use your imaginations.

Geronimo on April 11, 2008 at 4:50 PM

For another, how on Earth were they supposed to hold off several hundred angry students worked into a frenzy?

That’s the largest part of my point. The students were wrong. You can’t do that and simultaneously claim to be tolerant, or in favor of free speech. In this case, nothing much happened… the cultists were intimidated into leaving a bit early, and the situation was defused. Except that they successfully forced someone they disagreed with to shut up, and now they feel all righteous about it, and a boatload of otherwise responsible adults are patting them on the back for it. Which means they’ll have no qualms about doing it again to someone else whose speech they don’t like; it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it? Observe:

But what do you expect hate breeds hate. Remember while you have the right to say what you want, if other disagree with you they have the right to tell you to sit down and be quiet.

Sure, we can tell someone to sit down and be quiet, but we don’t have the right to enforce it. And the concept that “hate” is an actionable offense is very disquieting. Few of us like how that’s playing out in Canada right now.

I get as frustrated as anybody else when the ACLU twists some law into a knot and gets a child molester off the hook, as they are prone to do – especially when they are clearly biased in just whose rights are worth defending. But even though I disagree with their implementation of defending the right to free speech, I do agree with their theory that defending unpleasant or even hateful speech is necessary in order to secure everyone else’s right to free speech.

When you’ve got people here at Hot Air basically saying “wouldn’t it be groovy to form a mob and beat the crap out of those f@#^ers” – and yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you read back over all the comments, not too much – then I have to agree with Robcon –

However what I really hate about them is that they turn people into Brownshirts.

If I were a troofer type I’d think the Phelps were on Soros’ payroll because the one thing they seem to accomplish with ease is to gain acceptance of the idea that there are limits to how much free speech we should tolerate.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 4:57 PM

That’s the largest part of my point. The students were wrong. You can’t do that and simultaneously claim to be tolerant, or in favor of free speech.

And this is where the context gets into the picture. As an overall principle, you’re absolutely right, but you can’t just ignore the nature of the provocation. Those kids just lost three of their friends in a fire. Sure, a lot of them were probably just along for the ride, shits and giggles and hardly even knew the ones who died, but that doesn’t make the provocation any less brutal.

What I’m saying is, and take the military funerals that those animals have taken a dump on into the picture as well, because they’re really no different, if I just had a relative/friend/loved one die on me and somebody got in my face, deliberately, and called my deceased loved one a “faggot” who “deserved to die” and “G-d wanted it, so it’s good, here’s to hoping that more of your friends and loved ones get killed” (which is EXACTLY what they’re saying with their “pray for more dead soldiers” signs), then you’re certainly free to call me “intolerant” for landing my fist in his kisser, my boot in his groin and slamming my knee in his face as he bends over in pain, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

That’s not “intolerance”, that’s righteous fury in response to a deliberate, vile, malicious provocation.

Now where to draw the fine line between what constitutes a deliberate, vile, malicious provocation and what is just “opinion” and “protected speech”, that’s an interesting discussion, because I quite frankly can’t draw an exact one right off the top of my head.

But in the case of the Phelpses, they’re so far away from that hypothetical line that they’re not even in the same ZIP code anymore, so in their case that issue is a moot one.

Misha I on April 11, 2008 at 6:31 PM

That’s not “intolerance”, that’s righteous fury in response to a deliberate, vile, malicious provocation.

And if you’re willing to pay the price for refusing to tolerate that kind of free speech – i.e. a criminal record, fine, jail time, whatever the judge sees fit to hand you, plus the civil suit the Phelps will bring, then more power to you. I’ll contribute to your defense fund. But there is no jurisdiction that I’m aware of where “righteous fury” serves as a get out of jail free card. Well, probably college campuses, come to think of it. That’s the problem.

I’m not disagreeing with your emotions. I’m saying that as a society we cannot afford to indulge them. Imagine a whole nation of Berkeley, where the larger mob has the power, the ability, and the public and government’s sanction to silence a smaller group. Where how we feel is more important than the law or our God-given rights.

We have a generation of college students being taught to obey unlawful restrictions on their free speech via campus speech codes because the ultimate offense is to hurt someone’s feelings. Being taught that their “right” to not have their feelings hurt supercedes your right to say what you want. And that if they fail to shut you up by moral suasion, intimidation is just fine as a Plan B. That’s a real problem to my way of thinking. Berkeley is a much better example than this, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind.

Laura on April 11, 2008 at 6:55 PM

JVelez on April 11, 2008 at 9:33 AM

Thanks for the kind words. I pray that what I have written has shown some readers our false righteousness and desperate situation before a holy God.

“When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:25-26

shick on April 12, 2008 at 11:59 PM

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